Preston moved to within goal difference of the Sky Bet Championship play-offs after beating Middlesbrough 2-1 to claim a third consecutive win.

Emil Riis scored the winner in the 60th minute after Finn Azaz’s superb strike cancelled out Liam Millar’s first-half opener.

The victory secures a vital three points for Preston on a night when the club marked the 10th anniversary of the death of Sir Tom Finney with a rousing seventh-minute applause.

The visitors started well and nearly took the lead in the 11th minute, when Sam Greenwood’s deflected shot forced a good save out of Freddie Woodman after an interception from defender Greg Cunningham – an early substitute for the injured Andrew Hughes – fell into his path.

The pressure kept on building thereafter and it was completely against the run of play that the Lilywhites, sporting a special edition kit in memory of Finney, went in front in the 23rd minute.

Millar brought down Matt Clarke’s attempted clearance with his right foot and fired a left-footed shot past Tom Glover from just outside the box.

Leeds loanee Greenwood came close to equalising just beyond the half-hour mark, but his well-struck effort from distance went narrowly wide.

Shortly after the half-time interval, January signing Azaz’s attempt deflected wide as Boro continued to push for the leveller.

And it arrived through the same player in the 57th minute, opening his account for the club with a rocket of a shot into the top corner from 20 yards out.

Boro soon found themselves behind again, though, with Riis tapping home on the hour-mark – his sixth goal in as many games for Preston against Boro – after Will Keane’s shot fell very kindly to him.

Michael Carrick’s side did not let their heads drop and came close to equalising once more moments later, with captain Jonny Howson’s attempt only being directed off target by a defensive header.

Woodman had to be alert again in the 70th minute to keep out Marcus Forss’ volley from close range.

Luke Thomas worked space for a shot inside the final 10 minutes, but the Leicester loanee dragged his attempt past the post and that proved to be their last real opportunity.

Preston are now in ninth place on 48 points – level with sixth-placed Coventry, seventh-placed Norwich and eighth-placed Hull – while Boro are seven points back.

Plymouth got back to winning ways with a surprise 2-0 home Championship victory over high-flying Sunderland.

Another top-class strike from Morgan Whittaker and a superbly-crafted goal from fellow playmaker Finn Azaz put Argyle 2-0 up at half-time.

Try as they might, Plymouth found it hard to get out of their half in the opening 20 minutes but the game was turned on its head by a superb Whittaker strike in the 24th minute as Argyle made the most of a counter attack.

Luke Cundle, who was pivotal in both goals, had sent the ball down the right channel for attacking midfielder Whittaker to run at the Sunderland defence.

The summer buy from Swansea cut inside and let fly with a thumping left-foot shot from outside the box that flew into the opposite top corner, giving Anthony Patterson – at full stretch in the Sunderland goal – little chance.

The Sunderland number one was again left clutching thin air when Argyle surged further ahead on another counter attack in the 40th minute.

Again central midfield ace Cundle was instrumental in the counter attack, this time sending Azaz down the left flank with a measured pass, enabling the attacking midfielder to cut into the penalty area and place a shot out of the reach of the diving Patterson.

The home side had two let-offs either side of half-time as Sunderland twice hit the woodwork.

After 44 minutes Jack Clarke cut in from the left and teed up Jobe Bellingham, whose first-time low strike came back off the woodwork.

In the 54th minute Sunderland again went close.

This time Clarke’s cross was met by Trai Hume, whose towering headed effort came back off a post, with home keeper Michael Cooper only able to watch.

Substitute Adil Aouchiche’s follow-up flew into the side netting.

Sunderland continued to press, with Patrick Roberts sending an angled shot from the right just over the bar after the hour.

Another Clarke cross, from the left, was headed just high and wide by substitute Abdoullah Ba.

On another counter Whittaker sent Bali Mumba away from the halfway line and the winger’s shot on the run flew just wide from the right side.

Sunderland hit straight back, with Clarke forcing a near-post save from Cooper after 76 minutes.

Fit-again striker Mustapha Bundu – on as a sub – should have put Argyle out of sight but fired over from close range after a superb run from Mumba and cutback from sub Adam Randell.

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